DIPLOMACY WITH NEW DELHI
Ramaphosa persuades India’s Modi to attend BRICS Summit
Reports had indicated that the Indian prime minister would not visit South Africa, but Narendra Modi apparently changed his mind after a call with President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has stepped in to save the already-shrunken BRICS Summit by persuading Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend in person.
Ramaphosa made an urgent call to Modi on Thursday after reports surfaced that he would not visit South Africa for the summit in Johannesburg from 22 to 24 August but would only participate virtually.
That would have been disastrous for the stature of the summit, leaving only three of the five BRICS leaders physically present. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be in South Africa for the summit because South Africa would have had to arrest him on a warrant from the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
Ramaphosa had to exert considerable diplomatic effort last month to persuade Putin not to attend the Johannesburg summit in person but to participate by video and to send his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in his stead. Ramaphosa also had to persuade the other BRICS leaders, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Brazilian President Lula da Silva and Modi not to jump ship because Putin would not be there.
All seemed to be well until this week when a Reuters news report from New Delhi said that Modi was not interested in visiting SA for the summit. Modi’s reluctance appeared to be related to growing tensions between India and China and India’s realignment towards the US and the West.
The report noted that Modi had hosted a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO) last month in virtual format, after originally planning to hold it in person, without explaining the change. The SCO also includes China and Russia, among other Asian countries.
“One Indian government official said there is growing discomfort in New Delhi about being part of groupings like BRICS and the SCO, which China dominates, especially as India inches closer to the US and other Western powers,” the Reuters report said.
South African officials had previously said that India was uneasy about the plans to expand the membership of BRICS, which will be discussed at this month’s summit. China and Russia are believed to be the most enthusiastic about expanding BRICS, but India is reportedly nervous about BRICS becoming a predominantly pro-China and Russia bloc expanding support for those two powers even as tensions rise between them and the West.
An Indian analyst, who requested anonymity, agreed that “Modi has cooled off on groupings like the SCO and BRICS” and added that “India is not too keen on expansion with clients of China and Russia.”
It is not clear how Ramaphosa persuaded Modi to attend, if indeed Modi needed persuasion, as it seemed. But on Thursday the Indian government posted on its website that Modi and Ramaphosa had spoken on the phone.
“President Ramaphosa invited PM for the BRICS Summit being hosted by South Africa on August 22-24, 2023 and briefed him on the preparations for the same. PM accepted the invitation and conveyed that he looked forward to his visit to Johannesburg to participate in the Summit.”
This week, Lula confirmed that he would also be attending the BRICS Summit in person while Xi has not officially confirmed that he will be in Johannesburg for the event, though Pretoria has said he will be.
Black Sea Grain Initiative
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa and other African leaders have dismayed Western diplomats with their statement this week supporting Putin’s stance on his withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative which had enabled nearly 33 million tonnes of grain to be exported from Ukraine over the last year. Brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, the deal required Russia to lift its blockade on Ukrainian ports to allow it to export the grain.
But Putin pulled out of the initiative on 17 July, saying he would only reinstate it if Western countries lifted their sanctions on Russia’s exports of its own food and fertiliser. And this week Ramaphosa and the six other African leaders who form the African peace initiative implicitly backed Putin’s stance.
They “called for specific steps to remove obstacles to Russian grain and fertiliser exports, thus allowing the resumption of the full implementation of the Black Sea package initiative…”
The US Aid Agency’s deputy administrator for policy and programming, Isobel Coleman, dismissed this argument. She noted that Putin was claiming that Russian food and fertiliser exports were being hindered both directly and indirectly by Western sanctions. She noted that food and fertiliser were specifically exempt from sanctions.
To Putin’s argument that Western financial and logistical sanctions were indirectly hindering Russian food and fertiliser exports, she said: “Putin is trying to have it both ways. He says agricultural and fertiliser exports have been hindered … even by these indirect constraints.
“And yet Russia has had record exports of agricultural products in the last two years. Last year was a record and he’s now trying for another record this year. And he has also continued to export fertiliser.
“And it really doesn’t seem like these indirect problems are hindering them at all. He’s also said that Russia is ready to step in to replace the 33 million tonnes that went out under the Black Sea Grain Initiative over the last year.
“How is Russia able to do that if they are facing all of these constraints he claims? One of these statements has to be false. Russia is the main beneficiary of the destruction of Ukraine’s bread basket and the destruction of its export capabilities.
“The 25% decline of Ukrainian exports has literally been picked up by Russia. And it’s benefitting from the higher prices and the market share that it is stealing from its neighbour as it blocks its ability to export.
“Putin’s statements don’t add up when you look at the actual facts.”
At the Russia-Africa Summit last week, Putin did in fact tell African leaders, “Russia can well fill in the gap left by the withdrawal of the Ukrainian grain from the global market…” He noted that this year Russia expected another record harvest.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Putin rejects Ramaphosa’s appeal to reinstate Black Sea Grain Initiative
Putin noted that Russia had harvested 156 million tonnes of grain last year and exported 60 million tonnes, whereas Ukraine had only harvested 55 million tonnes and exported 47 million tonnes.
The European Union has also rejected the argument of Putin and the African leaders. It said in its EUvsDisinfo fact sheet that EU sanctions on Russia had no effect on third countries, nor did they prohibit even EU businesses from importing Russian agricultural products — unless individuals were involved who had been specifically sanctioned for their responsibility “for the brutal aggression of Russia against Ukraine”. DM